While our climate is generally benign, the first serious winter chill arrived, appropriately enough, on the first calendar day of winter in New Zealand – June 1. The winter fronts come straight up from the Antarctic. Our mellow, extended autumn with calm, sunny weather and temperatures sitting around 18 or 19 degrees Celsius disappeared overnight.
This too will pass. Generally the worst of our winter weather hits after the winter solstice – June 22nd to be precise – and today, June 2, has dawned fine and sunny, albeit with a chilly temperature. Mark is taking heed of this sudden drop. Today’s task, he declared, is to cover the bananas. You can see the semi-permanent bamboo frame in the photo. He needs the extension ladder these days to get the windbreak sheltering cover in place for the bananas have grown to a substantial size. At least we get a crop from them these days but we wouldn’t if he didn’t spend a day shrouding them for winter. That is as far as battening down the hatches goes here. We don’t wrap anything else up for winter.
Winter it may now be, but this does not mean bare branches bereft of leaves and an absence of flowers. The sasanqua camellias are at their peak, many of the species camellias are opening along with the first flowers on the early japonicas and hybrids. ‘Elfin Rose’ has been a particular delight this week, with the colour-toned Nerine bowdenii below. We cloud prune ‘Elfin Rose’ into stacked layers, both to restrict its growth and to make it a feature shape all year round. This annual clipping takes place as it makes its new growth after flowering – so some time between mid winter and mid spring. Clipping later would remove next season’s flower buds and we want both the form and the flowers.
It is perhaps a good indication of our generally mild conditions that vireya rhododendrons also feature large in late autumn and early winter. These are, of course, frost tender. Many are very frost tender – especially the big, scented cultivars with heavy, felted foliage. The one above, where we have a bank of maybe five of them beneath the mandarin tree, is ‘Jiminy Cricket’. It was bred by the late Os Blumhardt and is a full sister seedling to the more widely marketed ‘Saxon Glow’ and ‘Saxon Blush’ (not marketed by us). In our opinion, it is also superior to those two but all of them show more hardiness than most vireyas on account of having the relatively hardy species R. saxifragoides as one breeder parent.
We place the more tender vireyas with greater care, on the margins where they get plenty of light but adjacent overhead cover will give them protection from most frost damage. This is one of Mark’s breeding which we released as “Sweet Vanilla”. Big flowers and exotic fragrance to delight, even on the coldest days. We have no idea if it is still in production and commercially available – it is not a plant we kept under our management with intellectual property rights so anybody can produce it if they wish – but I hope it is because it has stood the test of time as a garden plant.
Also hitting its stride is Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’, aka Mark’s Retirement Fund. It was opening its first flowers at the end of March but they were just a teaser. As we enter winter, it will bloom through until early spring and bring us scented pleasure all that time. It is not big and showy like most of his deciduous magnolias, but it is a cracker of a plant in the smaller world of daphnes.
While we are not expecting the full onslaught of winter until June 22 – give or take a few warning episodes prior to that – by late July, the first of the magnolias will be opening along with the snowdrops. Temperatures will start to rise in August. Our winters are not as long and bleak as experienced in many other places but human nature being what it is, we probably moan just as much about the cold and winter storms.